Making EWB-USA Feel Like Home for Everyone

Since I first learned of Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) during my college tours back in 2011, this organization has felt like home.

It was a place for me to apply my diverse interests outside of engineering, such as foreign languages and public health, on a project developing a sanitation system in Las Mercedes, Ecuador. The EWB-USA chapter where I was a member was also more than 50 percent female, and I found more representation there than in any of my engineering classes. Note that today’s engineering workforce is only about 30 percent female — a statistic that has not increased significantly in recent years.

EWB-USA’s resounding emphasis on community-driven development also stuck to my heart like Velcro. We value our partner communities as equal collaborators, never minimizing the contributions they bring to the project. It’s a sign of a progressive organization to recognize that all stakeholders in projects have power and agency that complement each other to create sustainable infrastructure solutions.

For all of these reasons, EWB-USA has always stood out in my mind as an inclusive organization fulfilling its mission of equipping and empowering communities to meet their basic human needs. However, until recently, the organization did not have a policy to hold itself fully accountable to being diverse and inclusive to people of all backgrounds.

A passionate committee of volunteers, board members (including me, the Board Student Representative!), and staff, spent the last year developing EWB-USA’s first statement on diversity and inclusion. The statement has been formally adopted by the organization, and now it’s time to put words into action.

Stay tuned throughout 2018 as EWB-USA lives out its commitment through these actions:

  • Updating language in EWB-USA’s core documents to further support a more diverse and inclusive environment, such as the Member Code of Conduct and Employee Handbook
  • Reviewing volunteer resources for opportunities to include best practices around diversity and inclusion
  • Work with EWB-USA’s new eLearning Specialist to identify relevant trainings for our staff, board of directors and members
  • …and more!

As we work to grow our organization and its impact through the EWB-USA 2.0 model, we’ll continue to focus inwards, too, to ensure that everyone has a place here. People of all backgrounds shall be included and valued for the diverse experiences and skills that they bring to our organization and our projects, both domestic and abroad. This is more than just the right thing to do to live out EWB-USA’s core values — it also makes our organization stronger, together.

About the Author
Natasha Koermer
Natasha Koermer is the Student Representative on EWB-USA’s Board of Directors. Since graduating from University of Miami in 2016, she joined the EWB-USA Northern Virginia Professional Chapter and works as a Healthcare Systems Engineer at MITRE.